“I love independent films, it’s the only place as an actor you’re totally allowed to breathe,” actor John Leguizamo once stated.
In Egypt and the Arab World, independent films are difficult to make, without large budgets and with little support for the arts. Multiple filmmakers have said that they need to take jobs next to creating their films to support themselves financially. However, despite the financial obstacles, there have been many successful Arab-produced films, made by women about women’s stories, that have won awards across the world. Below is a collection of female-dominated independent films from the last 20 years that are easily available to watch, for free or for cheap subscriptions.
1. Pomegranates and Myrrh from Najwa Najjar on Vimeo On Demand
Available for rent for approximately 60 EGP (4 USD) on Vimeo On Demand, Palestinian director Najwa Najjar’s 2008 film is a touching tribute of Palestinian experiences when a wedding turns into a detainment by Israeli forces. The film tells the humane story of love, dance, and the importance of Palestinian land. Despite the inevitable Palestinian connection, the film is focused on the relationships, and as Variety labelled it, it “avoids making an argument about Middle East politics.” Pomegranates and Myrrh stars well-known actors in the Arab world and abroad including Yasmine Al Massri, Ali Suliman and Hiam Abbass.
The film premiered at Sundance Film Festival and has travelled to Rotterdam, Edinburgh, Durban, Locarno and Berlin film festivals.
2. Where Do We Go Now? From Nadine Labaki on Netflix
The Lebanese film Where do We Go now?, available on Netflix is a take on the tension between Christians and Muslims in a village. The 2011 film employs themes of conflicts of understandings of sexuality, female empowerment, and religious unity in a violent unnamed area of the Arab World to tell its story. It stars Nadine Labaki, who is also the director and co-writer of the film, as well as Claude Baz Moussawbaa and Yvonne Maalouf.
Where Do We Go Now? has won multiple awards at Cannes, Murex D’Or and the Toronto International Film Festival.
3. Rock the Casbah from Laïla Marrakchi on Netflix
The French-Morrocan film released in 2013 is the journey of the unveiling of a family’s troubles after their father’s passing reunites them together at home. With a sister acting in Hollywood and another who had committed suicide, there is much to unwravel during their time of mourning. The Laïla Marrakchi film stars Morjana Alaoui, Nadine Labaki and Omar Sharif.
Rock the Casbah has won awards at Dubai International Film Festival and Washington DC Filmfest.
4. Exterior/Night From Ahmad Abdalla on Netflix
Egyptian Film Exterior/Night explores the streets of Cairo in a new light when a taxi cab unites a sex worker, a struggling director and a taxi driver. While exploring the grander themes of sexism and classism in the country, heartwarming relationships are formed and initial beliefs are questioned. Directed by Ahmad Abdalla, the film stars Mona Hala, Karim Kassem, Sherief El Desouky and Ahmed Malek.
Exterior/Night has won awards at Cairo International Film Festival, Luxor African Film Festival and Malmö Arab Film Festival
5. Noura’s Dream from Hinde Boujemaa on Netflix
Starring the multinational actress Hend Sabry, Noura’s Dream follows a Tunisian woman’s inner struggle with freedom as her abusive husband’s prison sentence is cut short. The 2019 film questions divorce, empowerment and domestic abuse while Noura simultaneously raises three children as a working woman. The Arabic film directed by Hinde Boujemaa is available on Netflix.
Noura’s Dream won at the Carthage Film Festival, El Gouna Film Festival and Torino Film Festival.
6. The Cave from Feras Fayyad on International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam
The Cave, a 2019 documentary directed by Feras Fayyad, documents the story of a female Syrian medicala doctor called Dr. Amani who works at a secret hospital in Syria that’s hidden underground, thus called “the cave”, treating victims of the Syrian civil war.
The Cave was nominated for an Oscar, multiple Emmys and many other awards. The film is available for free viewing at the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam website.